This Friday, Neiman Gracie faces off against Rory Macdonald in the Bellator welterweight grand prix semi-finals. Rory has just come off a hard-fought majority decision draw against Jon Fitch, Neiman is hot off a submission of Ed Ruth. Here we look at this grappling-heavy matchup between two huge names in the sport.
Neiman, son of Marcio Stambowsky and a black belt under Renzo Gracie, might be the next Gracie MMA champion. As part of the most famous martial arts family in the world, his BJJ pedigree could not be any better. His martial arts training started at seven years old, mostly taking place at Gracie Barra Rio under Carlos Gracie. He later moved to Renzo Gracie’s academy to earn his brown and black belts, where he trains still. Now, at just nine fights into his career, he is fighting for the Bellator welterweight belt.
Neiman’s MMA style is submission heavy – unsurprisingly. He has yet to be defeated in a professional bout, and has only gone the distance once in his career.
With most wins by arm bar and RNC, this is not fancy, new-school, ‘sport’ BJJ; this is fundamental Jiu-Jitsu at its finest. Neiman has said himself that the fancy stuff goes out the window in a cage fight. His game is all about top pressure – he wants the mount, he wants your back, and if he takes either, you’re in trouble. Once he’s on your back he slices through your defense like a knife, and if he can’t then he knows exactly when to transition. This might be the most impressive thing about Neiman’s game – the decision making about when to move on to the arm bar seems perfect.
The match against Ed Ruth was a little harder than Gracie’s previous bouts – a fourth round finish that saw Neiman throwing up submission after submission. On the one hand, you might think he struggled to finish Ruth, but he demonstrated a variety of techniques, and a tremendous amount of determination. When he did take the back, it was all over – Neiman just has to keep the pressure on until the opening comes.
Most of Neiman’s takedowns come off the clinch. Look at his first few matches; they’re all about reaps from the standing position, mostly off the cage. If he can take the back from standing he will, putting on the body triangle and dragging down his opponent, and once it hits the ground he can get to work and secure the finish. Again, against Ed Ruth we saw something different, with Neiman shooting and scoring a double leg against the NCAA wrestler – an impressive attack, and a powerful extra tool if he keeps pulling it off.
Neiman’s striking is a bit unseen yet – what we’ve had is a little basic, but powerful. It’ll be nothing compared to the Red King, but we’ve seen before that Jiujitero don’t need to be, because if only one man is worried about the takedown that really frees up the hands. This early in his career, Neiman will be developing quickly. Training under Danahar, he could well surprise us – just look how fast Tonon is coming on.
Rory is the reigning champion in the welterweight division, and a terrifying force. His style is less specialized than Neiman’s but he is no slouch in the grappling. He trains out of Tristar, under the genius that is Firas Zahabi, and is a black belt under David Lea.
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Rory’s grappling style is much less BJJ and more ‘grappling’. He has seven of his twenty professional wins by submission, has never lost by tapping out, and is a savage wrestler. His performance against Nate Diaz was intimidating, managing to suplex the second degree blackbelt three times in one round. Against Wonderboy, frequent attempts at Iminari rolls showed he was comfortable with the leglock game, and he used the single leg X well against Demian Maia to escape mount and get to his feet. There are few submission artists as proficient as Maia, and just surviving his initial attacks on the ground is an achievement. Overall Rory is a balanced, proficient grappler.
Rory is a powerful striker as well. Seven of his wins have come by knockout, and he dominated BJ Penn and Maia in the striking exchanges. His most exciting striking bout came against Robbie Lawler – their fight is the stuff of legends, and brought Rory a hairs breadth from the UFC title. If any fight ever showed his heart, that was it.
For all his terrifying performances, MacDonald was lackluster against Jon Fitch. Where once was a man bordering on psychopathy, Rory said in his latest post fight interview that he didn’t want to hurt people any more. Neiman says he doesn’t believe anything has changed for Rory, but has the champ lost his edge?
This fight will be won and lost in the transition between striking and clinching. Rory obviously has a huge advantage in the kickboxing, with more experience and better training, while the ground goes to Neiman. Neiman’s wrestling takedowns probably wont be enough, but if they clinch up they could well go to the ground. From there it’ll be survival mode for the Red King, and though he has lasted there before it’ll be a struggle.
The issue is that Rory’s distance control is highly developed, and he has previously dealt with Jiujitero in a similar way – just look at BJ Penn. How Neiman’s striking has come along might decide the fight. It won’t be enough to beat Rory on its own, but then it doesn’t have to be – if it’s enough to create openings and get close, we’ll have another Gracie champion. If not, it’ll be a long night for the Brazilian. Either way, we’ll find out this Friday night.
If you want to check out some of the other grappling heavy matches on the card, check out Dillon Danis vs Max Humpfrey on the sub-grappling end, and Chael Sonnen vs Lyoto Machida for the wrestling side. There’s something for every style of grappler, old school or new, on this card.
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